Developing Higher English Language Proficiency for Vietnamese Primary EFL Teachers: a Critical Ethnographic Study
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The English language proficiency of primary teachers is of considerable interest in many non-Anglo countries including Vietnam. In the Vietnamese context of primary EFL teacher training, the level of TEYL teachers’ English language proficiency has been mandated in government policy since 2008 when graduating TEYL teachers are required to meet the B2 level of English as described on the Council of Europe Framework of Reference (see Government of Vietnam, 2008). However, there has been insufficient research into the English language proficiency level of primary EFL teachers in Asian countries (Nguyen, 2011). This study, therefore, aims to contribute to the construction of knowledge about the development of higher English language proficiency for Vietnamese primary EFL teachers in public primary schools in the Vietnamese context of English language education at the primary school level. In particular, I focus on mid-primary young English language learners from 8-11 years of age (3rd- 5th graders) and EFL teacher training for this age group in public primary schools in Vietnam. This is because the Vietnamese government has called for the development of EFL teacher training for this age group recently. As a ‘research insider’, I conducted an investigation into TEYL in a small and poor province in Vietnam where the issues were examined through critical ethnography, a qualitative research approach focusing on the cultural interpretation of people’s behaviours in a “natural” setting (Kawamura, 2011). Twenty-nine participants in this study were those who are directly involved in English language education at the primary school level. These participants came from three target groups including (i) nine primary EFL teacher trainers at a local teacher training college in group one; (ii) ten primary EFL teacher trainees in group two and (iii) ten primary EFL teachers in group three. Data was collected from three major sources including (i) twenty-nine semi-structured interviews conducted in the Vietnamese language, (ii) sixteen classroom observations (i.e. eight TEYL teacher training classes and eight TEYL classes at five public primary schools) and (iii) relevant materials. The data was audio-recorded, transcribed and translated for thick descriptive analysis (Blommaert & Jie, 2010; Neuman, 2011). A thematic analysis of different sources of data has indicated that Vietnam is facing challenges for developing high quality, relevant, primary level EFL training. The challenges include (i) the limited proficiency (especially oral proficiency) of graduating students compared to what is required by the government policy; (ii) the low motivation of student teachers to improve their ELP; (iii) the seeming lack of prioritisation for the improvement of ELP in TEYL teacher preparation programs; (iv) a possible shortage of TEYL teacher trainers with high enough ELP themselves; (v) difficulty in designing and developing relevant TEYL teacher training materials to improve TEYL student teachers’ ELP; (vi) difficulty in designing ELP tests equivalent to the internationally-recognized Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) B2-level standard (Government of Vietnam, 2008) and (vii) the lack of opportunities for improving teachers’ ELP through current TPD programs, particularly in the area of oral English for primary EFL teachers in public primary schools. In addition, Communist Party leader power corruption, a national problem (Vietnam Times, 2015), has been identified as a significant hindrance to increasing teacher trainee motivation. The argument advanced in this thesis is that specific steps need to be taken to build high-quality primary English language teacher capacity so that teachers can provide more effective opportunities for children to learn to be increasingly proficient in English. To help young learners acquire a desired level of English proficiency, TEYL policy needs to be critically reviewed to ensure that current English language teacher proficiency is enhanced and the professional skills of local language teachers particularly in TEYL are improved. Based on the findings, this study has pointed out suggested areas of improvements that potentially help develop higher levels of English language competence particularly in the area of oral English for Vietnamese primary EFL teachers in public primary schools in Vietnam and other countries. Also, the study has provided a number of implications (i) for TEYL teacher education policy-makers and (ii) for TEYL teacher trainers. Given the importance of helping primary school children attain a desired level of ELP in effective TEYL and TEYL teacher development for higher English language proficiency, the study has also contributed to the construction of a collaborative model of developing higher English language proficiency in Vietnam. It has proposed a blueprint for future policy on TEYL teacher education in Vietnam and other countries can perhaps benefit from.